The Vltava Riverside is one Prague’s most captivating areas, especially on a sunny day. While walking along the riverbank, I spotted Museum Kampa and stopped to view the famous gallery’s newest exhibition. Entitled Kupka Gutfreund Masters of World Art, the permanent exhibition features iconic Czech masters – František Kupka, abstract painter, and renowned Cubist sculptor Otto Gutfreund.
Kupka and Gutfreund are two of the Czech Republic’s most important artists. Both were prominent during the development of avant-garde art in Europe. Viewing their work was educational.
Their complicated lives are reflected in art created during various phases of their careers. Although I touch briefly on their life history, it’s too complex to cover in a blog post. Those interested can find information online. I was enthralled by both artists and have included many attachments illustrating their brilliant work.
Here I go, blog posting again… I felt the need to write about these artists for future reference, as I would surely forget most of the captivating detail. Thankfully, long-term travel provides the opportunity to explore AND reflect! Exploring Prague will keep me busy! There’s more history, art, and music here than I can comprehend – “the dull brain perplexes and retards”.
Jan and Meda Mládek Foundation
This selection of Kupka’s works is considered “one of the world’s most important representatives of 20th century art”. It forms a “basic pillar of the collection of the Jan and Meda Mládek Foundation” – creator and benefactor of Museum Kampa. Established in 1999, the Mládek Foundation “promotes fine art and presents its modern collection that began in the 1950s”.
František Kupka 1871–1957
The František Kupka Exhibition presents seven chronological chapters of his work. The “viewer can observe the stages of his focused analysis of individual painting means – line, area, light values, and color”. Kupka’s development as an artist is reflected in “his concept of color areas, which allowed him to develop a different form of image area building”. More than seven dozen of his works are on display at Museum Kampa.
“Many of Kupka’s important paintings and works on paper play between abstraction and portraiture. He would soon tip the balance toward total abstraction, becoming one of the earliest artists to do so.” MoMA
Kupka attended Academies of Fine Arts in Prague and Vienna and moved to Paris in 1896. Inspired by Neo-Impressionism and Fauvist painting exhibitions, he began exploring optical theory, intense color, and light and space effects. During this period of experimentation, Kupka supported himself as a caricaturist for satirical magazines.
In 1912, Kupka’s “landmark painting Amorpha: Fugue in Two Colors, was exhibited in Paris at Le Salon d’Automne. It’s one of the “first abstract paintings shown in Paris”. His circular studies “demonstrate his intense, iterative experimentation with the motif”. Kupka’s abstract paintings from 1912–13 “push the boundaries of nonrepresentational art”.
“As a young teen, Kupka worked for a saddle maker who introduced him to spiritualism and ideas about the cosmos, concepts he later used in early drawings and paintings that explored the relationship between religion, color, and geometry.” MoMA
Otto Gutfreund 1889–1927
The last chapter of the Kupka Gutfreund Exhibition is comprised of 17 sculptures and drawings and designs by renowned sculptor Otto Gutfreund. A total of 103 Gutfreund works are documented. His sculptures from 1911 to 1923 represent “Czech Expressionism, Cubism, and a new visual style for the First Czechoslovakian Republic“.
Gutfreund was born in Dvůr Králové nad Labem, one of five children in a Czech Jewish family. His father owned a small yarn dyeing plant. With the help of his clever wife, a seamstress, he later built the first modern round brickyard in the region. “Family cohesion and a love of art, especially literature and music, helped them overcome difficulties.”
Education – Prague, Vienna, Paris
Gutfreund attended the Czech Vocational School of Ceramics in Bechyně, and graduated from the Hořice School of Stone Sculpture, Prague Academy, and the Vienna School of Applied Arts. In 1909, he studied in Paris at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiére. He traveled throughout France, visited with sculptor Auguste Rodin, and became acquainted with Paris galleries and art collections.
World War I French Foreign Legion
In 1911, Gutfreund returned to Prague and became a member of the Group of Fine Artists, a Czech “avant-garde group”. In 1914, he moved back to Paris and got caught up in the First World War. He voluntarily enlisted in the army and became part of the French Foreign Legion, where he fought in Alsace and was held captive in the Saint Michel de Frigolet Internment Camp.
“Sorrow and joy, guilt and innocence, like two hands indissolubly clasped together; one would have to cut through flesh, blood, and bones to part them.” Franz Kafka Diaries
From Cubism to Social Civilism and Back to Cubism
Gutfreund returned to Bohemia in 1919, where conditions in the New Czech Republic were much changed. He “moved from his Cubist artistic opinion to the position of Social Civilism”. During this period, Gutfreund took private, public, and industry trade contracts and created major monuments and reliefs. His best-known works include:
- Metal Five-Crown Frieze Coin 1925 – Czech Pavilion Paris Exhibition of Decorative Arts Paris
- Monument of The Grandmother 1922 – from The Grandmother by Writer Božena Němcová
- Winged Arrow 1925-1927- sculpture of a machine motif Škoda Palace
- Czechoslovak Legions’ Return 1921 – Legiobank relief for Josef Gočár Rondo-Cubist architect
- Family (Rodina) 1925
- Three Heads – Girl with a Rose, Girl with Eyelashes, Looking Up
- Small Sculptures – Brawlers, Rivals, Lovers, On Earth
In 1926, Gutfreund married actress Milada Lindnerová and was appointed professor at the School of Applied Arts in Prague. He taught his students to develop plastic thinking and plasticity of the mind, learn craft skills, and respect civic and artistic morality. From the standpoint of Social Civilism, Gutfreund was a good role model for them.
Vltava River Drowning
Towards the end of his artistic career, Gutfreund “returned to Cubism and wrote numerous studies presenting his ideas on the field of sculpture”. In 1927, he tragically drowned while swimming in the Vltava River near Střelecký Island and Legion Bridge. He’s buried in Prague’s famous Vinohrady Cemetery.